Darius Slay can stop the Eagles’ bleeding against NFC East receivers

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Coming off of yet another tragically disappointing season, the Eagles’ secondary was finally reinvented this offseason. Howie Roseman had witnessed enough and had decided to go all-in on a lockdown corner – something the team had been missing the entire Doug Pederson era. That man is 3x pro bowler Darius Slay and for the next few years, he’ll be the one tasked with keeping opposing WR1’s silenced each game. More importantly, he’ll be expected to do that against divisional opponents.

The Eagles have been battered and bruised by NFC East receivers over the last few year. From Odell Beckham’s stint with the Giants, to the breakout of Terry McLaurin, there has been no sign of the bleeding stopping when it comes to the secondary. Here’s a look at the damage dealt by both Amari Cooper and Terry McLaurin in 2019 (and 2018 for Cooper).

CooperWeek 1624 yards12 tar4 rec0 TD
CooperWeek 7106 yards5 tar5 rec0 TD
Cooper2018217 yards13 tar10 rec3 TD
McLaurinweek 1125 yards7 tar5 rec1 TD
McLaurinWeek 15130 yards5 tar5 rec1 TD

It’s not pretty. Not pretty at all. What’s interesting though is that the Lions played the NFC East’s best last year, meaning Slay was manned up on both of these receivers for the most part. I charted the game to compare how he got on in comparison to the Eagles cornerbacks and this is what I found:

Cooper31 yards2 PBU3 INC2 COMP
McLaurin71 yards3 PBU3 INC4 COMP
Gallup43 yards0 PBU0 INC2 COMP

Against Washington, Slay strictly shadowed McLaurin, but he lined up against Gallup for a portion of the Dallas game – his 148 total receiving yards may well have prompted Detroit’s finest to try and put out the fire.

Overall, this is fairly impressive. The Dallas game was by far the better matchup for Slay, who was able to keep Cooper silenced for the majority of the game. Dak tried to get at Slay early with a couple of curl routes, but the veteran was patient at the line and able to stick to Cooper like glue, breaking them up and sending a clear message that it would take more than that to get past.

TargetOutcomeRouteVsYards
1PBUCurlCooper0
2PBUCurlCooper0
3TackleCurlGallup13
4CompOutGallup23
5IncVertCooper0
6CompCurl Gallup7
7IncInCooper0
8CompOutCooper15
9PBUCornerAustin0
10CompComebackCooper16
11incCorner Cooper 0

If you were to put this on a heat map, out routes weren’t great, corner routes absolutely were, and curls were a no-go.

Against Terry McLaurin however, things were a little different:

 OutcomeRouteVsYards
1INCCornerMcLaurin0 (but burned)
2CompInMcLaurin10 yards
3INCSlantMcLaurin0 (Should be TD)
4INCCornerMcLaurin0 (burned)
5CompVertMcLaurin26
6PBUSlantMcLaurin0
7PBUPostMcLaurin0
8CompInMcLaurin18
9IncRub vertMcLaurin0 (should be TD)
10PBUOutMcLaurin0
11CompSlantMcLaurin17

Ah. I wish I had a real explanation for what exactly happened here, but it wasn’t Slay’s best day at the office. Slay did come out and say that McLaurin was the second-most challenging receiver he covered in 2019 (behind Keenan Allen, who put up 98 yards), but he’ll now be facing him twice a year. Fun.

The one piece of context we need to add here though is schematic difference. The Lions run most of their defense with one safety over the top and a boatload of man-coverage. This is a problem when the pass-rush can’t get home and the secondary has no Safety help at all (at least the Eagles tried last year). It’s also not great when offenses know exactly how to pick you apart.

The Eagles, meanwhile, run a lot of cover-3 and inverted cover-2. Schwartz loves to disguise things and allow raw instinct to dictate the play, which oddly enough left his defense without much safety help too. But if the Eagles’ defensive coordinator can allow Slay to lock down one side of the field and let his scheme function as normal elsewhere, then maybe the McLaurin mauling wouldn’t be as bad. The stats are somehow still better than when he destroyed the Eagles, but if Haskins didn’t overthrow him 5 times then I highly doubt they would be.

Here are the route combinations defended by Slay across those two games:

In2/3 Comps28 yards
Slant1/2 comps17 yards
Vert 1/2 comps26 yards
Comeback1/1 comps16 yards
Corner 0/2 comps0 yards
Curl2/4 comps20 yards
Out2/2 comps38 yards

What we’ve really been able to take away here is that Slay is a true shutdown corner. He silenced Amari Cooper and made it look easy, while you’d like to think with some Safety help on his side, he would’ve fared better against McLaurin. Even if that’s not the case, who didn’t the wideout burn in his rookie season?!

The Eagles finally have a corner that’s comfortable on an Island all game which, if it forces a QB to come off his primary read and stand in the pocket longer against such a tenacious pass rush, is a gamechanger in itself. Considering the Cowboys now have CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, the Redskins have McLaurin, and the Giants have…Darius Slayton(?), it’s safe to say the move to acquire Slay was an important one.

Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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